Monday, August 8, 2011

Cary Gratz Killed in Action: August 10, 1861

From the obituary in the New York Times, August 18, 1861:

"Capt. CARY GRATZ, who has been for about five years a citizen of St. Louis, is youngest son of BEN. GRATZ, of Lexington, Ky., one of the oldest and most honored citizens of that State, and intimately connected for a quarter of a century with the banking institutions of Kentucky. The family is a branch of the Philadelphia family of the same name. Capt. CARY GRATZ was first cousin of HON. F. P. BLAIR [member of the U.S. House of Representatives], and from the first outbreak of the war has been in the public service; and in his last battle he died with great gallantry. His father has hundreds of friends in this City and in Philadelphia who will be pained by his misfortune."

Cary Gratz died in the second battle of the Civil War, at Wilson's Creek, near Springfield, Missouri, on August 10, 1861. He had turned 32 the day before.

An earlier post, A Civil War Tragedy, focused on Cary and his stepbrother/cousin Jo Shelby who both fought in the battle but on opposite sides. This one and the next will deal with Cary's death and its repercussions in military and political circles as well as its aftermath for his family.

The official account of Cary's death reports that he was advancing at the head of his men (Company E), when they discovered the enemy led by an officer carrying a Union flag. Gratz drew his revolver, fired "and knocked [the Confederate officer] off his horse, but upon reaching the ground he immediately arose and rushed through his lines, at which instant Captain Gratz fired a second shot pitching him headlong out of sight. The enemy now opened fire, and Captain Gratz fell, pierced by five shots."

The first member of the family to learn of his death was probably Frank Blair, his cousin in St. Louis, who took the loss of Cary and other friends to heart. The Blair's had political clout: Frank, of course, was a Congressman, his father, Francis Preston Blair of Blair House, Washington, DC, was a founder of the Republican Party and an advisor to President Lincoln and his brother Montgomery was Postmaster General in Lincoln's Cabinet. They had used their influence to help their old friend John C. Fremont, a soldier, explorer and the first anti-slavery Republican candidate for president in 1856. He was appointed to head the Army of the West in the summer of 1861, and it was Fremont who denied reinforcements to the outnumbered Union troops at Wilson's Creek. The Blair's faith in the general was shaken and in the following weeks Fremont's rash decisions and poor organizational skills seemed to form, for many observers, a pattern of bad judgment. The Blairs lent their support to Fremont's other critics, and the general was relieved of his command in November 1861.

John Fremont -- and his formidable wife Jessie, the daughter of a United States senator, who had devoted her life to her husband's career -- were ambitious and used to controversy. The couple battled back against the Blair's, their former patrons. Rebecca Gratz wrote at the end of October 1861: "[T]he great mortification they [the Blair family] suffer, is having assisted to place [the Fremont's] in power to do so much mischief. It seems to me that our friends [the Blair's] are deficient in knowledge of human character -- like other sanguine people they act from feeling -- and misjudge those they love, who they think are as guileless as themselves...."

Fremont would be courtmartialed and later pardoned by Lincoln, but he never received another command during the Civil War. (See the comment for a correction to this last statement.) The long friendship between the Fremont's and the Blair's was over.

Concerned as Rebecca was with the Blairs' grief and their troubles with the Fremont's, her main concern was closer -- her brother Ben's reaction to the death of his son.

To be continued.

(The report of Cary Gratz's death is taken from The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Record..., U.S. War Department, 1881. Rebecca's letter is in Letters of Rebecca Gratz, edited by Rabbi David Philipson.)


  1. Hi Susan,

    Rebecca's letter is interesting as it seems to indicate that she was sympathetic to the Blairs point of view. Not everyone agreed with Blair however. Although Blair had been a Free Soiler and a founder of the Republican Party in Missouri, he was never sympathetic with the plight of African Americans. His anti-slavery views were based on a belief that white labor would benefit from a removal of slavery and he championed colonization. While Fremont made mistakes and enemies, it is entirely possible that Blair was merely jealous of Fremont's popularity with the anti-slavery Germans of St. Louis, who never lost faith in Fremont, and who were supportive of Fremont's emancipation proclamation. Fremont also didn't want Blair's advice.
    B. Gratz Brown remained a supporter of Fremont and actually campaigned for Fremont's candidacy for President in 1864 to replace Lincoln, largely because Brown was angry that Lincoln would not free the slaves in Missouri. The cousins were obviously at odds during the war years, as Brown became a Radical and Blair became more and more conservative dedicated to Lincoln.
    Fremont has been pilloried by some historians for not sending more troops to support Lyon, but he didn't have much in the way of resources in those early months of the war and the really important objective was to secure the Mississippi River, which meant sending troops and supplies south, not west.
    And, Fremont was given another command in March 1862.

    I do enjoy your blog!

    Bob Pollock

  2. Dear Bob,

    I actually thought of sending a draft of this post to you because I knew I was out of my comfort zone. My efforts in writing it were to keep its length within limits I've established for myself and that meant omitting some of the complexity of the political positions of the Blair's and Fremont. I tried to put across that Fremont and his actions were controversial, but I'm afraid I did not emphasize it enough.

    I am really upset with myself that I included a blatant factual error. I think I must have misread something in a secondary source, but I should have checked what I thought was a matter of record more thoroughly. Thank you for setting me straight. I've now directed readers of the post to your comment.

    Rebecca was not a political animal and took many of her opinions from people she trusted. It's not surprising that she would be taking the side of the Blair's who had been dear friends for 40 years.

    I enjoy your blog too and enjoy the many visits my blog receives from you and others in the National Park Service. Now I have an NPS question for you: I just found out today that I am at the site of the 2nd National Park in the US, established in 1875: Can you place me on the map?


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